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O'Brien County writer chronicles the life of a 19th century immigrant farmer

O'Brien County writer chronicles the life of a 19th century immigrant farmer

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SUTHERLAND, Iowa | Carolyn Rohrbaugh never had the chance to meet Frederick ("Fred") Wilhelm Feldman personally.

After all, Feldman (a Bunde, Prussia native who emigrated to O'Brien County in 1864) had been dead for more than 140 years.

But Rohrbaugh always remembered Feldman's tombstone in the city's cemetery.

"His tombstone is still nestled on a bluff," she said. "It's overlooking the land he searched so hard to find."

Rohrbaugh, a sixth generation Sutherland resident, lived a mere five miles away from Feldman's former homestead.

When she came into contact with personal papers from his estate, Rohrbaugh wanted to delve into Feldman's life.

Rohrbaugh, an essayist, poet and children's book author, wrote "Dutch Fred: Immigrant," a 100-page book that weaves Feldman's personal history with fiction.

"Dutch Fred: Immigrant" (2017, Friesen Press) is available at Amazon.com as well as other online book retailers.

"This is the first time I've tackled anything this lengthy," Rohrbaugh said. "'Dutch Fred' is, by far, the most ambitious I've ever written." 

Tell me a little bit about (Feldman). What was his life like before to America?

"Fred was born in Bunde, Prussia (now modern Germany), in 1827. He dreamed of freedom and of tending to his own land in America. Eventually, he married Wilhemine and they had a daughter, Marie Sophia. Fearful that Prussia would soon go war, Fred left his family behind in order to start life in America."

But life in America wasn't what he thought it would be, right?

"No it wasn't. Fred began his journey that was filled misery and sorrow. As soon as he landed in Manhattan, he was taken advantage of. Immigrants often made for easy marks."

Plus our country was going through plenty of upheaval at the time.

"Well, the Civil War was ending and Fred heard of land that could be homestead in Iowa along a river called the Little Sioux. Once he discovered the level of farming required, he became discouraged and depressed."

Why did the homestead leave him so discouraged?

"Fred wasn't expecting so much land. It certainly wasn't a one-man operation and Fred was completely alone. Plus he was no longer a young man.

Remind me how old Fred was when he came to O'Brien County. Wasn't he still in his 30s at the time?

"Fred was 37, which was considered old in the 19th century. He would only live another eight or nine years before he would die."

Gee, that's heartbreaking. Do you think things would've been different had his wife and daughter joined him in America?

"That was always Fred's dream but it wasn't truly realistic. Wilhelmine had her own family commitments plus travel to America was such an ordeal."

Wow, you got all of this from Fred's personal papers. That's amazing. 

"I got the information from his papers, letters, even from receipts he kept and bills he had to pay. Fred kept very good records."

It seems like he was hoping that a good biographer would, some day, discover his story.

"I'd like to think so. The one thing I wanted to do is show Fred's life the way it was. He was a good man who wanted to live out his version of the American dream. While things were never perfect, Fred was willing to take a chance. For that reason, his life was one worth living."

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